Dallas Parallels: Saving Southfork

At the end of “Ellie Saves the Day,” one of my favorite “Dallas” episodes, Miss Ellie sits at J.R.’s desk and signs paperwork authorizing Ewing Oil to drill on Southfork. For Ellie, a principled conservationist, this is painful but necessary. J.R. has mortgaged the ranch and sunk the money in a foundering deal – and now the loan is due. Tapping Southfork’s vast oil reserves is the only way to raise the cash needed to stave off foreclosure.

As luck would have it, J.R. strikes oil elsewhere at the 11th hour, allowing the Ewings to preserve Southfork for ranching. But the story isn’t over. When TNT’s “Dallas” begins, Ellie is gone and Bobby has succeeded her as Southfork’s owner and guardian – until J.R. “steals” the ranch and sets out to pump its oil, triggering a bitter feud that divides the Ewings like never before.

The battle culminates in “Family Business,” an instant-classic episode from the new show. In a poignant scene, J.R. sits at a table in his bedroom, staring at the Southfork deed. With trembling hands, he takes a shot of bourbon, glances at a framed photograph of Ellie and signs the paper, returning ownership of the ranch to Bobby.

The parallels to “Ellie Saves the Day” are unmistakable. So are the ironies. Conservationist Ellie is forced to plunder the land, while oilman J.R. chooses to preserve it. Yet both characters end up saving Southfork.

The way mother and son reach their fateful decisions is revealing. In “Ellie Saves the Day,” the Ewing matriarch gathers her family in the living room and announces her plan to lift the drilling ban. Ellie mentions how much Southfork means to her, but she also displays her practical side. When Bobby reminds her Graddaddy Southworth’s dying wish was to preserve the land, Ellie responds: “Do you think the banks will preserve the land? They will not.”

Surprisingly, J.R. proves more sentimental. In “Family Business,” John Ross comes to his father’s bedroom and tries to persuade him to return the ranch to Bobby, but J.R. doesn’t want to hear it. Slumping onto his bed, he tells his son, “Southfork isn’t just a piece of dirt. It’s as much a part of me as my blood, in my bones.” Suddenly, we’re forced to consider the possibility that maybe the battle for Southfork isn’t just about the ocean of oil flowing beneath it.

Later, after confrontations with Sue Ellen and Bobby, J.R. finally comes around and signs over the deed. He brings the document to his brother, who is in his sickbed. “You’re still not off the hook for how you got this in the first place,” Bobby says. It brings to mind the final line in “Ellie Saves the Day,” when Ellie, after giving up the mineral rights, turns to her oldest son and says, “I may never forgive you for this, J.R.”

Perhaps that’s true, but something tells me Mama was smiling the moment J.R. put pen to paper and did his part to save Southfork.


‘Do You Know How Much Southfork Means to Me?’

Ms. Practicality

In “Ellie Saves the Day,” a third-season “Dallas” episode, Miss Ellie (Barbara Bel Geddes) enters the Southfork living room, where Jock (Jim Davis), J.R. (Larry Hagman), Bobby (Patrick Duffy) and the other Ewings await her.

JOCK: Miss Ellie.

ELLIE: Jock.

BOBBY: Mama, Ray said you took a tour of the ranch this morning.

ELLIE: [Smiling] Yes, I did. [She sits.]

JOCK: Well, we’ve tried everything, Miss Ellie.

ELLIE: I’m sure you have. J.R., do you know how much Southfork means to me? To all of us? I’ll never understand your motives as long as I live.

J.R.: Mama –

ELLIE: Now as I see it, the problem is this: Next week, the bankers who own the mortgages expect to be paid, and we don’t have the money. Is that right?

JOCK: Yes. And everything worthwhile is mortgaged.

ELLIE: Except one.

J.R.: What?

ELLIE: They can take this land, but they don’t have the right to drill for all that oil under Section 40. My daddy’s will gave the mineral rights to me.

BOBBY: [Leans forward] Mama, you can’t do that. You can’t break Granddad’s will. He wanted that land preserved for ranching.

ELLIE: You think the banks will preserve the land? They will not. However, I can release all of that oil for drilling. Millions and millions of dollars worth. And for that, I’m sure the bank will extend the due date on the mortgage indefinitely.

JOCK: I could never ask you to do that, Ellie.

ELLIE: It will save this ranch, Jock. And for that, I’ll go against my daddy’s wishes. [Rises, walks toward Jock] Jock, 40 years ago, Ewing Oil paid off the mortgage on Southfork and saved it. Now I think it’s time that Southfork repaid those debts.


‘Southfork Isn’t Just a Piece of Dirt’

Mr. Sentimental

In “Family Business,” TNT’s ninth “Dallas” episode, John Ross (Josh Henderson) speaks to J.R. (Larry Hagman) in his Southfork bedroom.

J.R.: I’m not signing Southfork over to anybody. The thing we should be concentrating on is a little payback to the boys who did that to you. [Points to the bruises on John Ross’s face]

JOHN ROSS: It’s a little late for that. Lucky for me, I had Uncle Bobby to get me out of that situation.

J.R.: Well, I got here as soon as I heard.

JOHN ROSS: Southfork is useless to you without the mineral rights. Now Uncle Bobby has agreed to drill. Once the Venezuelans are paid off, your piece of that oil, it’ll get you back on top.

J.R.: Christopher’s already agreed to pay off the Venezuelans with his gas rights. What’s gotten into you, anyhow?

JOHN ROSS: A little decency. They should not have to clean up after our mess. Haven’t we put Uncle Bobby through enough?

J.R.: You’re confusing emotion with business. This land is finally mine like it should have been all along.

JOHN ROSS: I’m so damn tired of hearing about your birthright.

J.R.: What did you say?

JOHN ROSS: Can’t you just let it go?

J.R.: [Sits on the bed] Southfork isn’t just a piece of dirt. It’s as much a part of me as my blood, in my bones. I paid a hell of a price for it. I thought you of all the people in the world would understand that.

What do you think of Miss Ellie and J.R.’s efforts to save Southfork? Share your comments below and read more “Dallas Parallels.”


  1. I love that line of JR’s. it was very poignant. I think many people fail to realize that Southfork itself means a lot to this character.

  2. This is a great observation: “Conservationist Ellie is forced to plunder the land, while oilman J.R. chooses to preserve it. Yet both characters end up saving Southfork.” Really great parallel.

    • Thanks honey! “Ellie Saves the Day” is one of my favorite episodes from the original series and “Family Business” is my favorite installment from the new show. I had to find some way to connect them!

  3. Miss Ellie was wrong to not allow J. R. ownership in part of the ranch.

    • I would think she’d split the ranch among her four “sons” (I think she came to view Ray as one of her own boys). J.R. would no doubt want to drill for oil on Southfork, but the other three would ensure that never happened.

      • Realistically, it makes more sense for Southfork to have one owner. Or at least one person who is the majority-owner. The idea of dividing it equally among your children sounds good on paper, but in practice it could just lead to more conflicts down the line, as each of those kids have their own kids, and then if they pass their share equally among their children, and so forth, it keeps dividing the ranch. Eventually you could have two dozen different distant Ewing cousins all owning Southfork, which would be a nightmare.

        So it makes more sense for ownership to be passed on to one child, who can then pass it one to another child, etc. The tradition would be that it goes to the oldest child, unless something happens. Garrison Southworth would have gotten it, but it was passed on to his younger sister Ellie because he was missing and presumed dead. And J.R., as the oldest, should have gotten it next, but Miss Ellie knew she couldn’t trust him to never drill on Southfork (& she was right), so it passed on to Bobby. That makes sense.

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